The Second Sunday of Advent by Liz Klein

Baruch 5:1-9

Philippians 1:3-11

Luke 3:1-6

Canticle 4 or 16


Advent 2 Luke 3:1-6 How do we prepare a way for the Lord? By The Rev. Liz Klein

Good morning and a warm welcome to each one of you online and here in the sacristy this morning. Thank you for welcoming me as your new deacon. I want us to begin with a big cleansing breath. Take a big breath in. Let the spirit run through you. Let it out. Take another breath in and breath out all that worries you. We are so blessed to have this sacred time to dwell in God’s word, the Good News. I pray that we would allow this Good News to dwell in our hearts and minds so we can hear the words of John the Baptist, and prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Jesus.

We hear this familiar Gospel from Luke. John went into the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Zechariah’s son was shaking things up in Judea. John’s unusual style drew crowds out to the wilderness east of the Jordan, where he was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:3) I have a lot of questions after hearing this Gospel and maybe you do too.

John the Baptist was unorthodox in his preaching, his manner, his clothing, and lifestyle. People small and great wondered about him. John’s preaching reminded the people that the Messiah was coming. The ordinary folk considered John a prophet sent by God, but the Jewish leadership had questions and concerns. I wonder if this is one of the reasons that so many leaders are mentioned at the beginning of the Gospel reading today.

I wonder why John preached in the wilderness, why not Jerusalem? The wilderness is largely unpopulated—People had to travel to hear him. Throughout Israel’s history, the wilderness has been a place where God has shaped his people. It is the place where the nation Israel was forged. Prophets did much of their work in the wilderness. Jesus was also tested in the wilderness. God works in the wilderness of our lives today. I know that I am more open to hearing God’s word when life seems most barren. How about you? Parts of the Pandemic have been lonely and barren and have seemed like the wilderness for many.

John speaks of the need for baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. I wondered if this idea of baptism was a totally new concept to the people at the time of John. I learned that the people listening to John were probably already familiar with two kinds of baptism: the baptism by which Gentile converts became Jews and then began a whole new way of life; and the ritual washings that the Qumran community understood as cleansing them, but only if they turned from their sins and obeyed God. Both types called for changed behavior. John’s baptism of repentance does too. Repentance (Greek metanoia) is not mere regret for past misdeeds. It means far more than saying, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Metanoia means a change of mind and heart, the kind of inner transformation that bears visible fruit. It means turning around and going in a new direction. I experienced this most recently with my hard work understanding racism and the part that I had played knowingly and unknowingly.

John proclaims a baptism of repentance that leads to release from sins. The release or forgiveness that follows repentance does not undo past sins, but it does unbind us from them. Before a king made a journey to a distant country, the roads he would travel were improved, made straight, leveled and smoothed. John is calling for a preparation for the Messiah, which focused on repentance and forgiveness of sin and the need for a savior. John calls us to repent as the way of preparing our hearts for the Lord’s visit.

How do we prepare and make ready a way of the Lord? Advent is a time of preparation for the Lord. The lighting of the 2nd candle on the Advent wreath this week reminds us to prepare. When John calls Israel (and us) to make the Lord’s paths straight, he is telling us to remove any obstacles that stand in the way of us honoring and loving God. What kind of obstacles might those be? The misuse of sex, money, alcohol and drugs. What about our quest for power, excessive anxiety, greed etc. What are the mountains that need to be made low? What are the valleys that need to be filled and the roads made straight? Preparing the Lord’s path toward peace requires overturning the world as we know it. John quotes the prophet Isaiah to describe the earthshaking transformation that must take place. There are so many mountains and hills and valleys in our lives. What are the obstacles, the mountains and valleys that prevent us from living the life God wants us to live?

Let me give you an example from the last week. I was walking up in the Mount Hood National Forest last weekend. It was beautiful, green and peaceful. I had to walk along the road for a short distance. I noticed that some car drivers waved and gave me plenty of space and others did not create any space for me to walk in, practically pushing me off the road. Initially, I was quite irritated. Because I do the Daily Examen, I am more easily able to gently evaluate my feelings, thoughts and actions. I began to wonder why some people gave me space and others did not. I wonder if some people have never walked on a road with cars before and do not realize the danger. I also realized that I did not want to be irritable as I was enjoying the beauty of the mountains with amazing trees, beautiful, lush green moss and birds singing. So, I prayed for those who gave me space and those that did not. It sounds so simple, but it changed my attitude, my hike and my day. It was a way for me to be more loving and kind as I believe God wants me to be, and more open to the holy happening all around me.

As I continued walking along the Salmon River, I noticed a new sign about fly fishing. It said, “Catch and Release Fishing only. No bait allowed. Only wild fish are present. Please treat them kindly.” I was really struck by this sign. Yes, let us treat the fish kindly and everyone and everything kindly. Alone, I might not be so kind. It is because of the love of God and God’s good news of Jesus that I can be kind, that the brokenness of the world can be healed and that I can pray for drivers that almost run me off the road. It is because of the love of God that we each can be healed and live more fully the life that we are intended to live, repent, turn around, be kind and love others. John proclaims the good news of Jesus, God’s promise, and our hope.

Preparing for God’s arrival means rethinking systems and structures that we see as normal, but that God condemns as oppressive and crooked. It means letting God humble everything that is proud and self-satisfied in us, and letting God heal and lift up what is broken and beaten down. John calls us to let God reshape the world’s social systems and the landscape of our own minds and hearts. People of Grace, you are preparing for God’s arrival by caring for and lifting up the unhoused, the poor and the hungry on our streets. You inspire me. I think the real goal of the church is to prepare our hearts to receive the Lord. This is the work of the Spirit. We contribute to the Spirit’s work in many ways—especially by prayer and by preparing our hearts to receive the Lord. It means being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world and feeding those who are hungry, advocating for laws to protect our environment, and helping those who are unhoused.

As you light the 2nd candle on the Advent wreath this week, Let us get on with preparing the way for Jesus in our hearts, our minds and in our world. Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

I will conclude with a question for us to ponder this next week. What do we need to lift up or bring down or change in ourselves to be more prepared for the coming of the Lord?

The First Sunday of Advent by Martin Elfert

Jeremiah 33:14-16

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Luke 21:25-36

Psalm 25:1-9

Today is the day when we name, in worship, that we are the stewards of this place that we call Grace Memorial. In particular, this is the day when you and I are invited bring forward to the altar an outward visible sign of our financial stewardship of this parish in the form of a pledge card. Those of us who are worshiping here on the ground are invited to do so literally and physically. And those of us who are worshiping online are invited to do figuratively and spiritually.

On a day like this, it is often customary to talk about the many good things that you support via your financial pledge. And I can’t resist doing a little bit of that because there is an impressive list of things your gift has made possible and continues to make possible.

Thanks to your generosity, there is a thriving community here at 17th and Weidler, a group of practitioners, some of whom are members of this church and some of whom are not, all of whom are nurturing healing, belonging, meaning, love, and justice.

This community exists because of you.

You have made it possible for us to defer rent for our partners at PHAME, forgive rent for our sister organisation, Grace Institute, thus keeping our Art Camp vital. You have made it possible for us to host the Free Lunch Collective, a team of volunteers who bring food, toiletries, and other necessities to our neighbours who live on our streets – if Jesus is telling the truth when he says, I was hungry and you fed me, then their work is a huge expression of the Gospel. You have made it possible for us to never lay off any staff across pandemic – that’s something of which I am particularly proud. You have made it possible for us to create new ministries, such as the Little Free Pantry.

We could keep going. Each of these things, all of these things, invite God’s Kingdom nearer.

But I’d like to spend most of our time this morning not on what your gift and mine makes possible within this parish but, rather, what maybe your gift and mine makes possible within our hearts.

Today in Paul’s letter to the young church in Thessaloniki Paul talks about joy and about abounding love. In particular, we hear Paul say, and I am paraphrasing a wee bit,

How can I thank God enough for all of the joy I feel because of you?

Paul’s letter reminds me of another letter, written many years later. This is a letter by Thomas More written in the year 1522. And it is written because More’s young adult daughter, Margaret is away studying and she had done what generations of college students before and since have done, which is to say that she has written home to ask for money.

Here is what More says in response (as with Paul, I’m paraphrasing):

You ask for money my dear Margaret with too much bashfulness and timidity, since you are asking from a father who is eager to give…

Go spend the money well. And then ask me for more.

So that I may have the joy of giving it to you.

The great Canadian-Irish preacher, Herb O’Driscoll, says More’s letter totally changed how he understood financial stewardship. What Herb realised is that there are two ways that money leaves our possession. We can transfer money to someone else because we have to, because we are a debtor. Or we can do so because we want to, because we are a lover.

Most of the time, when we dig out our credit card or our cheque book or open up Venmo on our phones, we are doing so because we are debtors. And to be clear, there is nothing inherently nefarious about this. I’d like a cup of coffee, Peet’s makes me one, and therefore I become a debtor to Peet’s for three dollars (or more if it’s a fancy cup of coffee). I’d like my house to be warm and therefore I become a debtor to the utility company. I’d like to attend a concert and therefore I become a debtor to Beyoncé.

And I settle my debt by handing over money.

A lot of time we enjoy the things we have purchased or we need the things we have purchased. But we rarely enjoy paying for them. Handing over money as a debtor is, at best, a neutral experience, sometimes it is an experience of regret – we have this expression called buyer’s remorse: I wish I hadn’t paid for that.

Hanging over money because we want to, handing over money as a lover, is an entirely different matter.

Suddenly, there is no transaction. We are not receiving goods, we are not receiving services. We are giving a gift. And in the giving there is joy. Joy in knowing that we are helping a person whom we love to thrive, joy in knowing that we are helping a place we love to thrive.

I reckon that this joy is what Louise Tippens was getting at when she led the Grace fundraising team in an exercise a couple of weeks ago. The fundraising team is a small group of folks led by Nancy Entrikin. Our primary task these days is raising funds for the capital campaign. I suspect that we may eventually tackle things such as planned giving.

And that evening a few weeks back, Louise asked us a pair of interrelated questions about capital campaigns such as ours. The first was:

How do you feel when you ask someone for money?

And we answered, many of us, by saying that we felt embarrassed or awkward, like we were imposing, like maybe we were dodgy salespeople trying to sell dodgy products.

But then Louise asked:

How do you feel when someone asks you for money?

And suddenly we said we felt excited or pleased or flattered, that we were being invited be part of something wonderful. In short, joy.

Maybe what we uncovered that night, with Louise’s help, is that a lot of us were feeling nervous about asking for money because we had made a category error. We thought that we were asking people to be debtors when, actually, we were asking them to be lovers.

I’ve shared with you before the tithe, that giving 10% of my salary to the Body of Christ as it is made manifest here at Grace, has become one of my most cherished practices. There are a bunch of reasons for that. But one of them, one of the biggest, is that this Biblical way of supporting our parish is a disciplined and structured way for my family and me to practice being a lover of this place. And I don’t get goods or services in return. I get the joy of knowing that I am helping Grace thrive.

And how can I thank God enough for all of the joy I feel because of this place, all of the joy I feel because of you?

It is such a privilege to join with you in being Grace’s Memorial’s stewards, in being Grace Memorial’s lovers.

The Twenty-Sixth Sunday After Pentecost by Martin Elfert

Daniel 7:9-10,

13-14 Psalm 93

Revelation 1:4b-8

John 18:33-37

Through much of high school I imagined that I was going to be an actor or, possibly, a director or playwright. I was in a bunch of shows, I directed my classmates in several shows, and I actually wrote several shows. (I haven’t seen the scripts that I wrote in years and I would be tantalised and afraid to return to them now – I am not sure what I would discover within their pages.)

One of the acting exercises that I remember most vividly from those days involved taking a script and seeing how many ways you could say a given line or even just a given word. Let’s imagine an actor comes on stage and the script calls for them to say the standard-issue greeting Hello.

How many ways could they say that word?

Hello

Hello

Hello

This sort of exercise is particularly fun and particularly challenging with an old-school playwright such as Shakespeare. Contemporary playwrights will often give you some clue as to how they imagine an actor saying a given line – the stage directions, in italics and square brackets, will tell you that certain words are whispered or yelled or spoken through tears. Shakespeare doesn’t do that. And so we have centuries of different interpretations of:

To be or not to be,

that is the question.

So. I love the lectionary, the schedule of readings that we follow across the year. It takes us to places that I probably wouldn’t go on my own. Divorced from the discipline

that it gives us to visit the Bible in almost its entirety, I would probably just choose to preach on my favourite verses over and over again.

But there are times when the lectionary drives me a little nuts. And this is one of those weeks. We are in John and we hear the famous encounter between Pilate and Jesus – the encounter that begins with Pilate interviewing or examining Jesus and ends with Jesus interviewing or examining Pilate. It’s an amazing scene. But today, the lectionary cuts off the last line of the scene.

Jesus says:

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

And that is where the lectionary told Liz to stop reading. But in John, Pilate says something after that. Does anyone remember what it is?

Pilate says:

What is truth?

I’d like us to remember that acting exercise from my high school days and see how we might read Pilate’s words. They are tricky because scripture, like Shakespeare some 1500 or 1600 years later, doesn’t have stage directions. John doesn’t tell us that Pilate speaks angrily or sadly or quietly or anything.

And these words are tricky because John does something extraordinary, which is that as soon as Pilate asks the question What is truth, the fourth Gospel immediately cuts to another scene. John 18:38 goes like this:

Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

After Pilate had said this, he went out to [Jesus’ accusers] again and told them, “I find no case against him.”

Jesus’ reply is totally missing. We don’t have that response to help guide our interpretation of Pilate’s question. Does Jesus respond with anger, with an enigmatic saying, with a parable, or, as he so often does, with a question of his own? Is John implying that Jesus responds with silence? Or does Pilate ask his question and then just run away?

Regardless, it is a brilliant decision for the Fourth Gospel to end this scene with Pilate’s question rather than Jesus’ answer.

And that means it’s up to us to decide how Pilate asks this question.

Here are three possibilities.

One. Pilate full of haughtiness and sarcasm.

Pilate: So you are a king?

Jesus: You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

Pilate: What is truth?

Maybe this is the Pilate whom we picture most easily. A monarch who is accustomed to people kissing his ring, a nihilist, someone who reckons that his pleasure and his power are the beginning and the end of what matters. And who finds anyone who thinks differently misguided and pitiful.

And maybe that is right. But I am always suspicious of reading a person – in my immediate life or in the news or in scripture – in such a way that there are less than fully human. And villains, people who are capital E evil? They may be fun in movies, but they probably aren’t fully human. Most people, it seems to me, when they do immoral or evil things (when we do immoral or evil things?) are telling a story about how their actions are good, necessary, and justified.

So let’s try again.

Two. Pilate stuck deep in the mud of bureaucracy.

Pilate: One more question – Mr. Christ, is it? One more question: You’re a king?

Jesus: You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

Pilate: Uh huh. And what is truth?

This one feels maybe a little more real to me. It’s Hannah Arendt who writes the famous book about the Holocaust perpetrator, Adolph Eichmann. To no small controversy, Arendt subtitled her book The Banality of Evil. Eichmann was one of the chief administrators of the Holocaust: he was a mass murderer who never killed anyone with his own hands. And Arendt’s thesis is that, among other things, Eichmann and his colleagues were able to carry out this monstrous act of evil by employing euphemism and by disguising it as an unremarkable act of accounting, as just doing their everyday jobs.

I can imagine Pilate as this kind of bureaucrat. A man aware, at some level, that he was engaging in terrible evil, but disguising the evil to himself by dressing it up as his plain-old duty.

One more try.

Three. Pilate as asking as sincerely seeking something.

Pilate: One more question – Mr. Christ, is it? One more question: You’re a king?

Jesus: You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

Pilate: What is truth?

This is the one that I want to be true. Pilate is carrying out the everydayness of empire, engaging, as in our second reading, in banal evil. But then Jesus says something or does something or is just there in his presence, the Son of God. And Pilate is shocked out of his routine. And in naked sincerity he asks:

What is truth?

Maybe the guards who are in the room with them at this moment perk up. So accustomed are they to bureaucratic cruelty, to suffering imposed by an indifferent judge, that they don’t know what to do with the abrupt emotion, the deep longing in Pilate’s voice.

If this reading is right, then this is maybe the most beautiful and real moment in Pilate’s life. And it is followed by his most pathetic. Because Jesus is offering Pilate transformation. And Pilate wants it so bad. But he doesn’t want it as bad as he wants his next promotion. He wants stuff and status just a bit more than he wants God.

And so Pilate, who totally has the power to just say, Jesus is innocent – I’m letting him go, instead tries for this half-hearted middle ground. He says to Jesus’ accusers, I don’t think he did anything. We should probably let him go. But when they insist, what does he do?

He washes his hands and he utters the most cowardly words of his life. He says:

You are the ones who are doing this.

Which reading is right? Is there still another that we have not considered? Is Pilate a villain, a perpetually distracted bureaucrat of evil, or – as is my hunch – someone who

can’t quite bring himself to choose love and to choose God? And depending on which way reading we choose, what does his story have to teach you and me?

Pilate did not expect the Son of God to turn up in his life that day. And maybe many of us have that in common with him – we don’t expect Jesus. Maybe that is why scripture tells us so often to stay awake, to be ready, to notice that Jesus is here the whole time, most often in the person of the least of these, our siblings.

So be ready. Be ready so that when Jesus speaks to everyone who belongs to the truth, you will be listening.

The Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost by Matthew David Morris

Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

We want to know how things end. How pandemics end. How interpersonal conflicts end. How the world––whatever world we currently occupy––ends.

There has always been a desire to know the ending.

I’ve had a lot of cause to think about endings this year. In January, me and my husband of 12 years (15 together), decided, for a variety of good reasons, it was time for us to finish our marriage. We didn’t decide it was time to “get a divorce” or to “break up.” We decided it was time to finish what we had begun back in 2008. 

We started the marriage in love and we were determine to end the marriage in love. 

We would love and care for one another throughout the process as best we could, helping the other to transition into life as a single person: moving each other into new apartments, talking with each other about new experiences and changes and challenges. 

We loved our way through the end of a marriage into something else.

The ending was not an end, full stop. It was a transition; a process. And the process has its own birth pangs. It has been, to borrow the common title of today’s Gospel passage from Mark, a “Little Apocalypse.”

The term apocalypse gets a bad rap. The foreshadowing Jesus offers his disciples about the apocalyptic ending coming their way serves as a blueprint for how most of us understand apocalypse. War, famine, destruction, the desecration of all-things sacred; phenomena not limited to first century Palestine. There has never not been a time when human beings did not harm each other with our violence, neglect, and hatred.

But the uncritical trends of biblical literalism and End Times prophecy have contaminated the Church, making it hard to hear these words and not want to read the news for clues about when exactly the end is coming. We want to know how things end.

But our obsession with knowing the ending can interfere with our ability to learn what the ending might mean. The meaning is what matters, not the timing, and the meaning of the word apocalypse is missed when we get tripped up on the dramatic imagery of a violent end.

An apocalypse is a revealing. That’s more what the Greek is getting at. It’s a pulling back of  theheavenly veil to show the truth of some earthly thing. An apocalypse is a reckoning; a crisis of meaning that requires us to reevaluate everything.

An apocalypse is like that moment in the hospital waiting room, after the fatal news was delivered by the doctor, when you realize that everything you knew no longer applies, because everything has changed and will never be the same. 

The apocalypse is not the death of the person; the apocalypse is the death of the paradigm you once knew to be your life.

Jesus––the truth of Jesus, the challenge of Jesus, the disorientation of Jesus––is the lens through which we are called to see the little and big apocalipses of our lives.

The temples fall, the church buildings are mostly empty, but Jesus is focussed on the well-being of his disciples.

Do not be alarmed, he says. This mess was expected, and though it’s an end, it’s not The End. Marriages end, plans change, and death happens. But beware that you are not led astray by anything that pretends to be love, but that is actually something different.

The endings of our imagination are often more cataclysmic than the endings that show up in our actual lives. I mean, unless they’re not. But regardless of whether it is the temple we have built of stone or the temple we have built of story, when it falls, we will feel scared and maybe even hopeless. We may wonder where God is.

And God is there, sitting with us on the mountain side, looking down at Jerusalem, whatever place we have made that we consider sacred and too precious to change.

And God will say, Do not be alarmed when the world you thought you knew ends. Do not be led into something new by anything other than the love I have for you and the love that I am calling you to share with the world. 

Do not let your heart be broken by the violence of your own wounded imagination.

For you are beloved. You are loved. And you are mine, God says.

This is the covenant that I make with you after this ends, says the Lord: 

I will put my law of love

in your hearts, 

and I will write it on your minds,

and you will find a way

to love yourselves

and love each other

through the pain of every

new ending.

Because that is what God is doing, every day in every one of us: loving us through the end.

into something new.

In the name of the one whose own ending is the ultimate beginning, our brother and liberator, Jesus.

Amen.

All Souls/All Saints by Matt Haines

Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44

Take me where you want me to go,
Let me meet who you want me to meet,
Tell me what you want me to say and
Keep me out of your way. Amen [1]

This week I was reminded about saintliness while listening to a short NRP Story Corps broadcast about Father Mychal Judge.[2] I have been inspired by Father Mychal over the years and have been following the growing movement to seek his canonization. Mychal was a Roman Catholic Franciscan friar in NYC known for his work in the AA community, the LGBTQ community, the HIV community and NYFD. He was a living -walking alphabet soup for the soul.

He had a great effect on everyone he met and was known to be joyful, loyal, caring, funny and holy. He was widely considered a living saint.  Above all he was compassionate.

Father Mychal served as a chaplain to the NYFD. On September 11, 2001, minutes after planes hit the World Trade Center towers, Mychal ran down the streets of NYC dressed as in the clothes of a priest—wearing a fire helmet on his head. He ran into the second tower to help. He was killed almost immediately; before he could bless any of his beloved fire fighters.

This doesn’t make sense; how could God allow such a tragedy happen to Mychal when those firemen needed him most?  What terrible timing! Just think how if he would have been allowed to live a while longer.  He could have done some real good ministry; he could have saved lives. Why wasn’t he allowed by God to minister to his beloved first responders?

A possible answer was given by his friend Franciscan Father Michael Duffy:

Mychal loved to bless people….his ministry was to bring the firemen to the point of death so they could meet their maker. [but] Mychal Judge couldn’t have ministered to all of them, it was physically impossible. Instead, Mychal Judge was going to be on the other side to greet them instead of sending them.

Could that be it? In a split-second Mychal went from sending people off to heaven to instead receiving them there. It was as if he simply slipped behind a curtain separating earthly life and life eternal.  Well, saints go where they are led, but then often taken end up where they are needed most.  Well, this explanation fits well for Father Mychal whose favorite prayer was:

Take me where you want me to go,
Let me meet who you want me to meet,
Tell me what you want me to say and
Keep me out of your way.[3]

Faithfulness and compassion is the Saint’s calling; the timing is up to God.

But what happens when God’s timing is all wrong–like in the Gospel this morning for example? Mary and Martha had sent word early on that their brother Lazarus was ill. Jesus seemed to dismiss their concern stating: “this illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the son of God may be glorified. He then stayed another two days before even bothering to head to  Bethany.  No fire hat on his head.

Eventually, that illness did lead to death. Jesus told the disciples plainly, “Lazarus is dead. Then he said “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 

Martha ends up confronting Jesus saying “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”

Jesus explained “your brother will rise again” Jesus  then said to her,

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Do you believe this?” 

She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 

Later when Jesus saw Mary and the others weeping, he was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” Jesus then began to weep.

The son of God wept! Even though he knew that the plan was to raise Lazarus just a few minutes later– and even though he understood that his timing had to be this way to proclaim resurrection—he cried. He had complete compassion, he suffered with them!

Jesus then cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Then the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Lazareth was unbound from death, the cloth shrouding death from life was removed.

It seems this whole drama could have been avoided. Jesus after all could have intervened on the front end of this. He could have been spared Martha and Mary of their anguish, spared poor Lazareth from death and decay, and spared himself from his own sorrow.

That was not to be. As Jesus showed his faithfulness, God the Father chose the right timing. “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” He had to proclaim the resurrection. Jesus trusted that his father would take care of the timing. The love of God is after all, not subject to either time or space. The first verse of Genesis declared “In the beginning God created.” The first verse of John we learn about Jesus with the words “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”  Just as today we hear from Revelations that “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” Time means nothing to an infinite God. It’s we mortals who are up against the clock.

Maybe the lesson is that that even though we trust in the eternal life and resurrection it is still very painful to lose someone—and that If Jesus weeps, it’s okay that we do too. That Jesus suffers with us, he is compassion.

Maybe it’s just that things happen outside of our control and though it may be out of our control there is room for God’s timing.

Perhaps the lesson is that though earthly death may not be avoidable—but that though Jesus it is ultimately overcome.

We won’t know for certain until we, like Father Mychal’s firefighters, are met on the other side by the cloud of witnesses. Until we are called to “come out” of the tomb and are unbound like Lazarus.

This week’s funeral for General Colin Powell brought this into greater focus for me. All week I was wondering about the great eulogies, the dignitaries, the majestic music, and the pomp of the liturgy.  Instead, it was the first few minutes that captivated and inspired me. I watched the flag draped coffin as it was carried up the steps of Washington National Cathedral with proud military precision. At the door however, the American flag which represented the earthly work, honor, and service of the General and Senior Statesman was replaced with a simple funeral pall–the white cloth placed on the coffin of every Christian hoping for eternal life. The shroud that covers all people.

His body was then brought into the church as the presiding bishop proclaimed the prayer first offered by Jesus to Martha of Bethany:

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord;
he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;
and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

Hearing that prayer will we dare to answer as Martha did? Will we say:

 “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world?” 

If so, we might just meet in that “new heaven” with the faithfully departed, the communion of saints in that place where God “will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”

This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.


AMEN


[1] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fr._Mychal_Judge_FDNY_memorial_-_inscription.jpg

[2] https://www.facebook.com/StoryCorps/videos/father-mychals-blessing-september-11-initiative/563501658182865/

[3] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fr._Mychal_Judge_FDNY_memorial_-_inscription.jpg                                    

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Doctor Liz Klein

Lessons:

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Mark 10:46-52 46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

A warm welcome to Grace Memorial- those of you online and those of you in church this morning.

Thank you for allowing me to give the homily today. Thank you to each one of you who has welcomed me as your new deacon here at Grace Memorial.

Take a big breath in. Let the spirit run through you……We are so blessed to have this sacred time to dwell in God’s word, the Good News. I pray that we would allow this Good News to dwell in our hearts and minds so we too can have faith and be made well. So, we too, can be transformed to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.

We just heard a familiar reading from Mark. Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, believes in Jesus, and is healed and follows Jesus.

There are so many details in this story to think about, pray about and talk about. Mark is a book about God’s shattering of human expectations. As the temple lay in ruins, Christ followers wondered constantly about how long they would have to wait for Jesus’ return. They were trying to understand the words of Jesus that were so counter intuitive for their time. Fascinating how Jesus’ words and actions still go against many of the beliefs that people hold strongly today.

There are many stories of healing in the Bible, and I admit that some seem nearly impossible to believe. I stand before you and tell you that I have witnessed and experienced many miracles in my life, as a child and as a family doctor and now as a clergy person.

It started when I was 6 years old. My mother decided to give her blood for my aunt, who was quite ill. My mom loaded all 4 of us kids in the old station wagon, and drove us to Tulare County Hospital,

where she was to give blood for my aunt. I was really worried because I thought that if they took her blood, she would die. I sat in the back of the car and prayed to God, all the way there, that they would not take her blood. They did not take her blood because she was anemic. I did not understand anemia, but I did believe in the power of prayer and still remember my elation that God had answered my prayer and my mom would live. I have been a prayerful person, who believes in God and miracles, ever since.

Over my life, I have wondered why it was so easy for me to have faith and believe in God as a child and why is it harder sometimes to believe and have faith as an adult.

This story about Bartimaeus invites us to consider how faith is manifested, nurtured, and stunted within each one of us and in our community.

I want us to consider what role we each play in this story.

1) Bartimaeus, who is blind and poor, believes in Jesus. Bartimaeus understands and grasps who Jesus is. Despite his blindness, he discerns that Jesus is specifically able to heal people and heal him. I wonder how he became so faithful.

Bartimaeus persists, in spite of people reprimanding him and telling to be silent.

But Bartimaeus knows better and yells, “even more loudly” until Jesus hears him.

Bartimaeus expects a transformation. Presumably Jesus could have walked to Bartimaeus to talk with him. Instead, he tells the onlookers to summon Bartimaeus to him. Now those who sought to inhibit the beggar must assist in Jesus’ ministry to him. Then Mark adds one more delicious detail: Bartimaeus tosses aside his cloak. Obviously, he expects to regain his sight, for a blind beggar would ordinarily do well to keep his possessions close at hand. When Bartimaeus casts off his cloak, he confidently prefigures that he will no longer sit on his garment dependent upon begging and handouts from others. I marvel at such faith, perhaps you do too.

Bartimaeus asks for the right thing. When Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” his reply is a simple request voiced with the confidence that Jesus can deliver. “That I would see again,” Poor blind Bartimaeus believes in Jesus’s compassion to bring him wholeness and deliverance.

Remember the Gospel from last week where James and John ask Jesus for something. They asked to sit in glory at Jesus’ right and left. When it comes to understanding what Jesus has come to do, the disciples James and John are more “blind” than Bartimaeus.

Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “Your faith has saved you”. Bartimaeus has faith in Jesus and believes in Jesus’ love and compassion for him.

2) There is another role in this story. There are some in the crowd, who ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet. They were determined to keep Bartimaeus blind and invisible. I wonder why they yelled at him to be quiet. Is it because Bartimaeus is a blind beggar and probably near the bottom of social privilege in their society? Do they think that their needs should be addressed first? Or do they shout at Bartimaeus because they think he deserves to be who he is? Do we encourage or discourage people to pray and be faithful and believe in God’s healing power? Do we sometimes think we are better or more deserving of God’s love and healing than others?

3) And the third role are the others in the crowd, who took the opportunity to guide Bartimaeus to Jesus with hopeful words, “Get up, He’s calling you!! They believed in Jesus’ healing power. Do you believe in Jesus’ healing love for each one of us? Do you encourage others to believe in God’s ability to heal us?

What role do you play in this story? And how can we be more like Bartimaeus and believe that Jesus wants us to be healed and whole and follow him?

Jesus preached and died for a God who was known for kindness and generosity and compassion and healing. No one was deemed outside the love of the Holy One whom Jesus called “Father.” No one was excluded from fellowship, not the rich or poor, male or female, slave or free, sighted or blind. Jesus’s compassion changes everything. Compassion heals. Compassion mends the broken and restores what

has been lost. Compassion draws together those who have been estranged.

Just this week, I sat with a Grace Memorial parishioner in her home, and we celebrated Communion together. She had not received communion since March 2020. She has cancer that has spread in her body, but she is at peace. She spoke of knowing that each day was a sacred gift, unexpected and treasured. She is so thankful to God for each day. Her faith in a loving God encouraged me. I have been thinking about her faith and her peace ever since. She gave me permission to share her experience with all of you.

How can we grow our faith to be more like this, to be more like Bartimaeus? How can we grow our faith in God’s love and healing for each one? I wonder if we can help each other grow our faith by telling our stories of how we experience God’s love and healing.

I have discovered that many here at Grace Memorial believe in God’s love and compassion for each person. I see you setting up sack lunches for the unhoused, visiting those who are isolated and caring for those in our community. How have you experienced God’s love and healing? Will you tell your story of God’s love and healing this week?

Amen.